Loyal Hill carves out impressive career
Cricket writer Logan Savory has been looking back at key moments and key people in the past 150 years of Southland representative cricket. He caught up with Robbie Hill, the only player to play 100 two- or three-day games for the province.
In 1974, a 19-year-old from Gore by the name of Robbie Hill took his first steps in the Southland senior cricket team against North Otago at the Miller St grounds in Invercargill.
During the next 18 years he carved out one of the more impressive records in Southland cricket and remains one of the frontrunners who have had an impact on the sport in the south.
Over two decades he played a remarkable 100 two- or three-day games for Southland, including an impressive 36 Hawke Cup challenges or defences. He remembers that first match fondly.
"It was a funny game. When we got [North Otago] out Jack Alabaster had a hand in all 10 wickets. He got nine and I got the other and he caught it.
"That was my first game for Southland. It was pretty hard to break into the Southland team from the country in those days. It's a bit like Southland trying to break into Otago now, town cricket was very strong."
Hill became a regular fixture in the Southland setup and was part of two of Southland's greatest cricketing eras.
The first was when Southland defended the Hawke Cup on 14 occasions from 1973 to 1977 and when they held it from 1989 to 1992, resisting 15 challenges.
They were two of Southland's finest sides, with the team in the 1970s featuring five New Zealand players - Gren and Jack Alabaster, Robert Anderson, Brian McKechnie and Graeme Thomson. In the late 80s and early 90s the team featured nine first-class players.
Hill said it was too hard to compare the sides.
The 1973-77 era had remarkable batsman Anderson to call on and the spin of Gren and Jack Alabaster was too good for minor association cricket.
Through the late 80s and early 90s Southland had countless standout players, and a special bond which he believed was the real key to their success.
"There was a core of about seven of us that played right through that tenure. There was Kevin [Burns], Richard [Hoskin], Straw [John Wilson], Toad [Ross Murdoch], Swede [John Lindsay] and Skelty [Peter Skelt]. We had a group that got on well, I don't think we ever had an argument. We did a lot together, we socialised together, it was like a close family. Kevin also led that team exceptionally well and it all stemmed from that."
Included in that era was the introduction of then 16-year-old Jeff Wilson, a youngster with immense talent who would go on to play cricket and rugby for New Zealand. Hill fondly remembers sharing in a 115-run 10th wicket stand with Wilson against Marlborough in 1990 to help Southland defend the Hawke Cup.
"Right from the start we knew Jeffery was going to go where he was going to go. You would have had to be a real dummy not to realise his potential and how far he would go. He was unique, like Jack and Gren [Alabaster] and Jumbo [Anderson] were unique, he could change a game even at that age."
At the start of the 1992/93 season Hill's 18-year tenure as a player in the Southland team came to an end. There was no retirement, no special send-off - he simply wasn't picked, and that was that.
"It's still a bit sour, I've never really made a song and dance about it but they named the squad to play the first Hawke Cup game that season and the first I knew I'd been dropped [was when] I read it in the paper. I was a bit miffed because you would think after all that service they would have given me a ring and let me know they were going to do that."
When his days as a player came to an end Hill continued his connection with Southland cricket in coaching roles. This included acting as a technical and head coach at different times over the past 24 years.
Given Hill's father John was a prominent Southland and Otago player there were not many other paths Robbie was going to take, but he wouldn't have had it any other way.
"It's in the blood, I was destined to be a cricketer, I suppose. Cricket has been good to me."